7 Types of Misspellings

By Mark Nichol

Most misspellings can be categorized in one of seven groups. Here are some examples for each of those types.

1. Incorrectly Repeated Consonants
In some words, consonants are awarded extraneous twins, such as a doubling of the first t in commitment or of the r in harass (the latter perhaps from confusion with embarrass, in which r is doubled. Other common erroneous doublings including the n in inoculate (perhaps because of innovation and other words in which n is doubled), the s in occasion (many words, like expression, do have a double s), and the c in recommend. Note that in many of these words, there’s already a twin double consonant, which may also confuse writers. (One word that does have two twin consonant pairs, accommodate, is often misspelled with only one m.)

2. Wrong Vowel
Using an incorrect vowel is a common problem, leading to such misspellings as definately (or the bizarre variant definatly), dependant, privelege, rediculous (a heretofore virtually unknown mistake, prompted by emphatic pronunciation of the first syllable, that has gone viral as more people are exposed to it online), and seperate. The correct spellings are definitely, dependent, privilege, ridiculous, and separate.

3. Wrong Consonant
This type of error is less common than those of the vowel variety, but two of the most commonly misspelled words in this category are consensus (in which the first s is replaced with a c) and supersede (in which the second s is replaced with a c).

4. Reversed Order of Double Vowels
Many words with two consecutive vowels, especially those with a pairing of e and i, look odd no matter which order the vowels appear in, so for many writers, it’s a toss-up as to which is correct. These words are all spelled correctly: gauge, niece, pharaoh, receive, weird.

5. Extra Letters
One word that is often given an extra vowel is mischievous, perhaps because it is often mispronounced as if it were spelled mischievious. Some words ending in -ly, such as publicly, are often erroneously given an -ally ending. Judgment and acknowledgment, spelled in British English (and, well into the twentieth century in the United States) with an e after the g, omit the e in American English.

6. Missing Letters
Coolly and woolly are often misspelled with only one l. Incidentally and other words with the -ally ending, in a reversal of the problem commonly seen with misspelling of publicly and the like, are frequently mistakenly spelled with -ly endings. Liaison often lacks its second i, prerogative is sometimes seen without the first r, and rhythm may lack the first h.

7. Confusion with a Similar Word
The most common type of misspelling, perhaps, is that in which the wrong word in a homophonic duo or trio is employed, such as forward in place of foreword or site (or, rarely, sight) instead of cite.

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9 Responses to “7 Types of Misspellings”

  • John

    Two you didn’t mention, perhaps because they’re so egregious: you’re, /your, and there/they’re/their

  • Ray

    The one that drives me crazy is loose/lose.

  • Vincent

    Isn’t “dependant” the correct spelling in British English ?

  • Vincent

    Oh, I should be more precise: I was speaking of the noun; the adjective is always in “ent”.

    A dependant is dependent upon somebody. (UK)
    A dependent is dependent upon somebody. (US)

  • venqax

    I think maybe an 8th, enabled by technology rather than confusion or ignorance, is the genuine “typo”. That is, letters put in the wrong order because of mis-timed keystrokes followed by no or insufficient proofreading, rather than the writer actually thinking the spelling is correct. Examples often encountered are HTE for THE, TRAIL for TRIAL, FRO for FOR, and HWO for HOW. At least I assume no one thinks that THE is spelled H-T-E…. The unique thing about these is that they are mistakes that would only be made on a keyboard, not when writing by hand.

    Also, the -able vs -ible ending for which I’m not aware of any guiding or general rule; e.g. RESPONSABLE.

  • Scott Mellon

    Incorrectly repeated consonants are one of the many banes of living in a bilingual city. Appartement and adresse are both correct in French, but it’s a real challenge to remember which language is which, and I see many signage errors in both directions while walking around Ottawa. I believe the French have logic on their side in the first case but not the second. It has to do with how the Latin “ad” prefix is inherited before a consonant; the usual pattern is to change the “d” to a doubling of the following consonant. I am sure that a member of the Academie Francaise could explain it all perfectly, as they do everything.

  • Vincent

    @venqax:

    On the topic of misspellings of “the”, see “teh”:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Teh

  • Curtis

    There are mnemonics for some of these — of course, the “I before E” rule, to which one could add general exceptions such as proper names, which are often “ei” — e.g., Keith.

    The only other one I recall immediately is for the word ‘separate’ — ‘There is A RAT in ‘separate.’ ‘

  • Mary

    “Definately” drives me crazy! It is, no doubt, as the author states, derived from mispronunciation of the word itself. Other mispronunciations which sometimes find their way onto the written page are “supposably” and “hisself”. Also, there is the common misspelling “inconvienience”.
    And the apostrophe is misused constantly to pluralize words, especially on menu boards… Taco’s, etc.
    For that matter, “etc. is often misspelled “ect.”
    I’ll stop now. I could go on for pages!

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